House, Senate bolster calamity budget
MANILA, Philippines – Additional sources of funds to complete the P38.8 billion needed for the reconstruction areas ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) have become available.
On Tuesday night, December 3, the House of Representatives – voting 213-6 – approved on third and final reading the P14.6 billion supplemental budget for the executive's disaster fund.
The amount under House Bill 3423 will be sourced from the unused portion of the lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for 2013, which was earlier declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate passed on second and third and final reading a joint resolution that seeks to extend the validity of the President’s calamity fund and departments’ Quick Response Funds (QRF) in the 2013 budget for calamity-related purposes.
The P12 billion will still be available next year. A provision in the 2013 budget states that the validity of funds lapses at the end of the year but the resolution allows the national government to continue using the money until Dec 31, 2014.
The House approved its version of this resolution extending the validity of the calamity fund on Monday.
The P14.6-billion supplemental budget approved by the House is not for Yolanda-hit areas only. It can fund rehabiliation effort in places that suffered from other calamities this year: typhoons Labuyo, Odette, Pablo, Sendong, and, the Zamboanga City siege, and the Bohol earthquake.
Abakada Representative Jonathan dela Cruz and House appropriations committee chairman Isidro Ungab figured in a heated discussion during the period of interpellations on the floor on Tuesday.
Dela Cruz wanted Ungab to provide estimates for the cost of rehabilitating calamity-stricken areas. "We are being treated by the executive agencies and the chairman of the appropriations committee as if we don't know how much is needed," Dela Cruz said.
Ungab, in response, asked Dela Cruz not to delay the approval of the budget further. "I'm sympathizing with the congressmen in the field. If we want to help, why don't we help now?" Ungab said.
Aside from this, the House was elso threatened with a lack of quorum. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr admitted to reporters in an ambush interview that he had to send text messages to his fellow congressmen upon seeing that there was not enough warm bodies on the floor before the roll was called.
No part for LGUs
As for the P12 billion savings, Senate President Franklin Drilon said in a statement, "the resolution will make sure that the appropriations under the 2013 calamity fund, including those all unobligated and unreleased allotments for the calamity-related projects under the 2013 national budget, will remain valid for use until December 31 of next year."
Under the law, government funds which remain unused by the end of the year will be considered as savings and returned to the National Treasury to be used the next fiscal year. The resolution allows the fund to be used by implementing agencies until 2014 for post-disaster efforts.
Twelve senators voted to pass the resolution on Tuesday, while Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile abstained.
Senate finance committee chairman Francis Escudero said he will have to check if there is a need for the Senate and the House to reconcile their versions in a bicameral conference committee, or if the House will just adopt the Senate version.
Escudero said there were only minor changes in the Senate version.
“We removed the reference to local government units (LGUs) because in the calamity fund and QRF, the LGUs have no participation. We also added accountability, reportorial, and transparency provisions on the use of the funds,” Escudero said.
A joint resolution, like a bill, requires the approval of both houses of Congress and the signature of the President. It has the force and effect of a law if approved. – Rappler.com